Women in (Conscious) Entrepreneurship


Business has long been a world dominated by men.  A world often focused solely on profits.  Meanwhile, a change is underfoot.  Companies are starting to consider their impact beyond their fiscal bottom line.  These new, impactful companies are considering the needs of all their “stakeholders”, from customers and employees to their local communities, and often, the needs of the whole planet.

After spending twenty years of entrepreneurship, building (tech) companies comprised almost completely of men, it is nice to find that is not the case in the new wave of sustainable, conscious companies.  In these companies, it appears that women-run companies are not just common, but may be the majority.

The numbers of such companies are still small, but clearly growing.  Business incubators like Fledge (Seattle, WA), The Unreasonable Institute (Boulder, CO), and Village Capital (Atlanta, GA) are helping dozens of these companies annually, and unlike the tech-focused incubators, the norm is for at least half of the companies to be led by women.

At the first two cohorts at Fledge, the numbers are even more dramatic.  Six of the eight startups in the Winter 2013 program are run by women:

  • AlchemList is an online wish list for non-profits, Freecycle meets philanthropy.
  • Brown Box is cleaning up India, turning the waste stream of human cesspit effluent into a profit stream via power, biogas, and other products of value.
  • MyVoice uses crowdsourcing to match the use of philanthropic funds with the desires of the stakeholders.
  • Seattle Good Business Network is bringing a multi-store, local shopping loyalty card to Seattle.
  • Shift Labs  creates simple, inexpensive, human-centered medical devices for global markets.
  • Snohomish Soap produces organic, homemade soap, via a distributed, local, women-powered manufacturing network.

This in addition to Trash Backwards, TayaSola, and Community Sourced Capital from the Summer 2012 program.

And this is not a bias in the Fledge application process.  More than half of the applicants were startups with women founders.  Plus in the last two years of entrepreneurial startups coming out the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, all four are headed by, or run completely by women: Community Sourced Capital, Slice Finance, Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery, and TayaSola.

What is it about “conscious” companies that attracts so many women?

According to Carrie Ferrence, co-founder and CEO of Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery , “The traditional start-up model has been long dominated by men, but the shift toward conscious companies has created space for women to take a more prominent leadership role, designing business to be responsive to more stakeholder groups (community, family, environment, etc) and, hopefully, due to that inclusivity, more sustainable over the long term.”

Cindy Todd, founder of Snohomish Soap, thinks the difference is deeper, that many women “view things holistically.” For example, “our kids, our work, our passion…they aren’t separate, they are all part of a greater whole.” Like our everyday lives, and our companies can be just as holistic, while making a profit.

Rachel Maxwell, co-founder and CEO of Community Sourced Capital  sees the chance the change the status quo.  “I believe women are willing to step into the space of business for good because they aren’t as invested in competing in the world as it, they are willing to take the risks required to make the world as they
would like it to become.”

Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see an industry that doesn’t begin with the old gender biases seen elsewhere.

About Michael “Luni” Libes  – http://about.me/luni
Luni is a 20+ year serial entrepreneur, founder/co-founder of five companies.  His latest startup is
Fledge, the “conscious company” incubator.  In addition, Luni is Entrepreneur in Residence and Entrepreneurship Instructor at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and an Entrepreneur in Residence Emeritus at the University of Washington’s Center for Commercialization.  Luni is author of The Next Step: Guiding you from idea to startup and The Next Step: A guide to pitching your idea.

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